GAA Football

Armagh developing the hard edge they need for top flight battles says John Toal

Armagh saw off Derry at Celtic Park in the Ulster Championship last year. Picture Margaret McLaughlin.
Andy Watters

AFTER spending the last four seasons in the Armagh management team, John Toal is confident the Orchard county has developed the “hard edge” required to compete in Division One.

Keady native Toal, a Sam Maguire winner with Armagh in 2002 before a horrific knee injury prematurely ended his career, stepped down from his role late last year after helping to bring Kieran McGeeney's team from Division Three to the top flight.

He is confident that the Armagh players have the ability and determination to live with Gaelic Football's big dogs when the 2021 season begins.

“They are a great bunch of players with a great attitude and the management is first class as well,” said Toal.

“Each year they've got better, they've improved and they have moved up the divisions until now they are where they want to be and where they need to be.

“The players have learned along the way and their attitude, commitment and drive has predominantly been first class. They'll need to be at their peak to push on in Division One but they're well capable of it.”

Armagh have been consistently inconsistent over recent seasons and their tendency to run hot and cold has limited their impact in Championship football. However, Toal says the hard-edge the teams he played in were famed for is developing in the current side.

“There are times when they've gone out and played really well and then the next game they haven't lived up to the standards they've set themselves,” he admitted.

“That's something the players have to continually work on and they have become much more consistent.

“Three or four years ago they would go out and blow a team away and the next day they wouldn't count but over the years they have improved on that and matured. It was a young team when Kieran took them over and it took him a lot of time to get discipline and get the fitness levels up, but since they've got that they've developed well and hopefully now they'll push on with more of a hard edge which they'll need against the teams they are going to face.

“They want it (success) so much and they're willing to put in the effort and they want to push on. If you have that in a team then you're going the right way. It's taken a number of years to get the right players, to get the right attitude and mentality and I think they have it now and that's what they're going to need against Tyrone, Donegal and Monaghan. They're more than capable of holding their own and more.”

Mentors Toal, Paddy McKeever and Jim McCorry all stepped down since last season ended with defeat to Donegal and Kerry Allstar and All-Ireland winner Kieran Donaghy and former Armagh skipper Ciaran McKeever have been drafted in to replace them.

Former midfielder Toal says work and family commitments made it impossible for him to remain involved.

“It was just time,” he said.

“I'd been there for four years and between work and family and different jobs, it was just very hard to commit to it. I had a good long chat with Kieran about it and I will miss it but I have four young children and I have my own business so I couldn't commit for another year.

“After every year I was involved I sat down with Kieran and said ‘I'm struggling to commit but I stayed on'. This year I just felt that I couldn't give it the commitment you need to.”

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